Archive for category Subject: Water

Painting Rivers || Rob Dudley

The subtitle of this fascinating and enjoyable book is “from source to sea” and it encapsulates Rob Dudley’s original approach to painting water. There have been a lot of books about that subject, but this is the first I can recall that eschews lakes and the sea in favour of the variety that can be found in what flows between them.

Water is a living thing. It has form and substance, but its shape is defined by what contains it and its outward manifestation – colour and appearance – and by the light that falls and the forces that are exerted on it. It’s a truism that you can never step into the same river twice and, on the same basis, you can never paint it twice either. Indeed, as a painting is effectively a moment frozen in time, you can’t really paint a river at all – but let’s keep well away from metaphysics!

This is as thorough and comprehensive a book as you could wish. Rob explains approaches and techniques in his chosen medium of watercolour as well as how to capture light, movement and reflection. He considers not just the river itself, but its surroundings and the people, objects and creatures that occupy it.

There are plenty of demonstrations and projects to get to work on, as well as discussions of the life of the river as it progresses downstream. This is an original idea that’s well thought-out and executed.

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DVD A Simple Approach in Oils || Roger Dellar

Simplicity is a complicated thing. It takes a lot of skill and experience to learn how to extract the essence of a scene without fiddling, over-working and getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. In the five paintings demonstrated here, Roger works from a basic blocking-out of shapes, a carefully selected palette that reflects the dominant colours and an economy of brushstrokes. His remark, “I’m lazy; I only use a few brushes” is disingenuous – there’s nothing lazy about it and, although he’s not one of those painters who thinks hard before making every mark, each one is deliberately placed. There’s no random working, placing and re-placing. It’s fascinating to see how he works from the general to the specific, with details at first scratched into shapes and blocks before being delineated with colour some time later.

Of the five scenes, three involve water – the other two are in the centres of Chichester and Midhurst. The common factor is that there’s a lot going on – different craft on the water, details, people coming and going or a jumble of buildings. A literal approach, where everything is recorded, would be indigestible, but Roger’s way of building up manages to leave nothing out while at the same time omitting all extraneous matter. That’s what I meant by the complication of simplicity: it’s not just about developing an eye for a picture, but about the means of putting it down on canvas.

It’s also worth noting the palette exposition that starts the film. These are usually a matter of “this is my palette, I put these colours on it”. Roger’s is much more, because he works with such a limited range and he explains here and throughout the film how these are chosen to reflect the scene in front of him. His idea of having two sections of white, one for warm and one for cool colours is a neat one, too. Palette explanations are rarely of more than passing interest, but this is riveting.

After I watched this film, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about it. I left it overnight. “It has to mature”, I said, and it has. Roger doesn’t instruct, he just explains what he’s doing, so extracting the information is like brewing coffee – it can’t be hurried. I find I have a surprisingly clear memory of almost the whole film and that’s a measure of good explanation – simplicity always leads to comprehension.

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How to Paint Water in Watercolour || Joe Francis Dowden

This is another of the bind-ups and re-workings that Search Press are making something of a speciality of at the moment. I think that needs to be said, if only to alert buyers to the fact that it is not all new material. And, as ever, the job has been done so well that you might, at first glance, think that it is.

This is based on two previous volumes, Watercolour Tips & Techniques: Painting Water from 2003 and 2014’s Joe Dowden’s Complete Guide to Painting Water in Watercolour. Only a cynic would question why the latter needs any augmentation, so I will. The simple fact of it is: simplicity. The Complete Guide was encyclopaedic in its content and something for the more experienced practitioner. The Tips & Techniques title is perhaps beginning to look a little dated and was rather more elementary. There’s clear space for something in between and, while water is not a subject that books exactly ignore, if you have Joe Dowden on hand, why not make use of him?

Bind-ups often suffer from being exactly that. Every book has its own introductory material and ways in, as well as idiosyncrasies and shoving multiple titles together leads to repetition and ungainly jumps. What you need to do is extract the best, or most suitable, bits from each one and then re-originate so that the new work is genuinely new and has a coherence of its own. If you can see the joins, it hasn’t worked.

Search Press have, as I’ve remarked, form on this and it’s very good form. This has a nice progression to it and works perfectly as an introductory course in painting water that won’t blind the beginner with science or, for that matter, leave the more experienced tutting with frustration. Those amongst you eyeing up your backlists, take note.

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Sea & Sky in Oils || Roy Lang

This is not a new book and I’ve reviewed it before, but it remains pretty much the only work on the subject and has become something of a classic, so I think this re-origination and reissue is worth a mention. Search Press have been revisiting some of their backlist titles recently and have had the good sense to start from scratch with a complete redesign. In some cases, these make the original almost unrecognisable, though I’m not sure that’s the case here. The work, both in terms of design and the finished result, looks fresh though, and the layout and illustrations have a clarity that make this look new rather than something that’s been mucked about for the sake of it. To deconstruct something that was originally as good as it could be made and come up with something that not only looks good but also doesn’t look like a camel (which, you’ll recall, is a horse designed by a committee) is quite an achievement.

I don’t think this is one of those books I’d say is worth a look even if you have the original. However, if you’re new to painting, or to oils, and want something like this, you’d be glad to find it. It would certainly be worth springing for the new edition rather than buying an older one second-hand.

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Lakes, Rivers & Streams in acrylic (What to Paint) || Paul Apps

The style and layout of this series should be sufficiently familiar by now. It’s well tried and tested and new authors should have no trouble tailoring their work to fit in. Paul Apps, indeed, does not, offering a good variety of moving and still water subjects and plenty of different surrounding details such as trees, rocks, boats and structures.

The thing that did surprise me was the lack of any colour charts. I’m pretty sure I remember simple palette guides from earlier volumes and they’d certainly have been handy here. It’s there in the text, but you have to tease it out. The expanded details are merely enlarged sections of the final painting that appears on the right hand page of the single spread devoted to each demonstration. I think this is standard across the series but, as they’re no larger – and in some cases smaller – that than the full image, I’m really not sure how much they add to the sum of the whole.

I’m really sorry to come across as slightly lukewarm about this, especially as I actually rather like it. Paul Apps works in the oil style of acrylics and he has an instant appeal that will probably find you taking this to the till. “A painting and how I went about it” with an outline sketch you can trace down is an attractive formula that works for many people and I hope you’ll brush my reservations aside.

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Travelling Light || Ray Balkwill

It’s a good few years since someone told me I should check out the West Country artist Ray Balkwill and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since.

This new collection showcases an excellent variety and quantity of his paintings and even includes a chapter on methods and materials – Ray is candid about the way he works and isn’t averse to sharing. Locations include his home territory, of course, but also Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France. Ray is at home with most subjects, although it has to be said that his paintings really come alive when boats and water are involved.

Ray is often characterised as a mixed media artist, but the truth is that medium isn’t the raison d’être of how he works. He’s not a “media” painter at all, I’d contend, rather a painter who works with whatever best suits and interprets the particular part of the subject he’s working on. For a more detailed demonstration and analysis of his working methods, have a look at his DVD, Capturing Coastal Moods.

This is a beautiful book and will appeal to those who appreciate good art, lovers of landscape and waterscape and, of course, fans of Ray’s work. The quantity and quality of the illustrations will pretty much guarantee that no-one will be disappointed, or even regard the book as particularly expensive.

Travelling Light: The Sketches and Paintings of Ray Balkwill
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DVD Capturing Coastal Moods || Ray Balkwill

The title of this give you an implicit hint as to what it isn’t. It’s not a guide to painting maritime subjects. How so? Well, as Ray tells us at the beginning, “I’m a great advocate of working on location. A sense of place is important, not just to capture what I see, but what I feel.” And that’s the essence of what he’s demonstrating here: it’s not the coast, it’s the mood. He continues, “I’ve painted here a few times. It’s that connection with the place that’s important”. It’s a theme that pervades the entire film and, since we’re quoting, here’s another: “I’m not looking to make an accurate representation, I’m looking to make a picture … as long as it looks like a boat, I’m happy.” (I’ve conflated two things, there, but you get the …er… picture).

Ray is known as a mixed media artist, but I’m going to burst another bubble while I’m on a roll. He’s not. What I mean is that he doesn’t paint mixed media because that’s how he’s pigeon-holed himself. He’s not really a media man at all. Yes, he uses pencil, felt-tip, Conté, pastel and gouache, almost always in that order, but only because they’re what he needs for a particular effect. It’s more like a conductor bringing in the various parts of the orchestra to provide tone, shade and colour – highlighting the violins here, backing them up with woodwinds and cellos, adding colour with the brass and then using tympani to bring the whole thing to a crescendo. I should also say that Ray not only makes this look the most natural thing in the world (you may even conclude that using only one medium is to restrict yourself quite unnecessarily), but also easy. It isn’t, of course, and it’s his supreme confidence and virtuosity that allow him to achieve what he does.

You’ll notice that I haven’t once mentioned the subjects that Ray paints here. That’s deliberate as I think that to describe this film factually would be to miss the point entirely. This isn’t about what Ray paints, but how he does it and there’s a degree of alchemy to that. There are, though, five full demonstrations, all filmed in Cornwall, as well as a studio-based postscript which includes a look at a painting worked up from a sketch done in unpromising conditions in Gweek boatyard.

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